Three of the best players in bj-league history -- forwards Michael Parker (Evergreen State) and Josh Peppers (Central Florida) and guard Michael Gardener (Southeastern Louisiana) -- made their debuts here during the 2007-08 as members of the inaugural Rizing Fukuoka squad.
That team was coached by John Neumann.
To this day, that team remains one of the most exciting, versatile collections of talent this league has ever seen.
I'm still intrigued by what would've been if Neumann had remained the Rizing coach to this day, with Gardener, Parker and Peppers playing together, along with spitfire guard Akitomo Takeno (spelled as "Takemo," in the story posted below; my typing miscue, but he's a player that cannot be forgotten, a fun-to-watch backcourt standout).
If the aforementioned trio had stuck together on the same team, would the Rizing have been title contenders for four straight years? I think it's fair to say that would've occurred.
Also, by the addition of Parker (featured in this week's One on One in The Japan Times), Peppers and Gardener to the league, it showed Japanese basketball fans that Neumann, a supreme talent in his playing days, has an eye for talent. He knows how to find good players.
Peppers has showcased his talents with the Rizing, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, the Sendai 89ers and, most recently for the Shiga Lakestars.
Gardener went on to play for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, then the Takamatsu Five Arrows under Neumann. After a one-year hiatus playing elsewhere, he's back in the bj-league, reunited with ex-Phoenix coach Kazuo Nakamura. Gardener will be a major part of the Akita Northern Happinets' run-and-gun offense this season.
As for Parker, he remained with the Rizing through the 2010-11 season, becoming a fan favorite along the way, collecting three scoring titles and four steals crowns. Now, he's a key part of the Shimane Susanoo Magic's second-year squad.